Feast-ivals of the North

With its white sandy beaches and breath-taking natural formations, the Philippines has long made its mark as one of the world's prime tourist destinations. This country of more than 7,000 islands and 100 million people is also known for its religious and cultural festivals, among them the Santacruzan, Ati-Atihan, and Dinagyang.

But perhaps lesser known but equally enthralling are festivals that focus on food. There's the lechon festival in Balayan, Batangas -- highlighted by a parade of roasted pigs -- held to honor the feast of its patron saint San Juan Bautista on June 24.

In Lucban, Quezon, the Pahiyas Festival is held every 15th of May in honor of San Isidro Labrador. It is the farmers' thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest with a grand display of colorful rice wafers, fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts adorning every house in the town.

In Northern Luzon -- from Benguet to the Ilocos, food festivals attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The festivals have grown to include not just food displays and cookouts, but also other activities ranging from street dancing to trade shows and cultural competitions.

Here are some of the food festivals of the North:

Dinengdeng Festival

 The Dinengdeng Festival (Photo courtesy of GMA News)

The Dinengdeng Festival (Photo courtesy of GMA News)

The Dinengdeng Festival is an annual official event of the municipality of Agoo, La Union. It is held in the month of May to celebrate a dish from which its name is derived from.

"Dingendeng," is the Ilocano term for a vegetable-simmered dish. It is usually cooked in a "banga," a local term for a cooking clay pot being used by the descendants of the local settlers in the ancient times.

The festival aims to promote local tourism for this town which has a proud history as one of the established Spanish settlements in the region.

As part of the festivity, students from different high schools in Agoo participate in a street dance competition. And what Philippine fiesta is without the crowning of a beauty queen? The search for the Mutia ti Agoo is among the highlights of the Dingengdeng Festival.

Bangus Festival

 The Bangus Festival (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

The Bangus Festival (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

First celebrated in 2002, the Bangus Festival was the brainchild of former mayor Benjamin S. Lim who wanted to showcase Dagupan's local bangus (milkfish) industry and to promote the city as the Bangus Capital of the World.

The festival continues to grow each year under the leadership of incumbent mayor Belen Fernandez. It is usually held in April.

The festival includes the lighting of 1,000 barbecue grills lined up to cook thousands of bangus; the grills stretch up to two kilometers. This also serves as a competition for hundreds of cooks, whose dishes are not only judged by the grilling but through whipping up the tastiest and most creative way of serving bangus. The contest was eventually called “'101 Ways to Cook Bangus” and won for the city a recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest barbecue in 2003.

Aside from the grilling challenge, the festival showcases a bangus eating contest, a search for the biggest and heaviest bangus, the Gilon-gilon dancing festival, the Pigar-pigar festival, the Halo-halo festival, and the Bangusan street party, where several local and Manila-based bands are invited to perform.


The Bangus Festival includes the lighting of 1,000 barbecue grills lined up to cook thousands of bangus.

Empanada Festival

 The Empanada Festival (Source: PGIN Communications & Media Office)

The Empanada Festival (Source: PGIN Communications & Media Office)

The celebration of the City Charter Day of Batac, Ilocos Norte every 23rd of June is highlighted by the staging of the Empanada Festival to better promote the city's most famous product.

Empanadas are a delicacy in many parts of the world, but the famous empanadas in the Ilocos are unique in their ingredients and preparation. There’s even a friendly competition between north and south (Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur) as to which empanada is better!

The Batac (Ilocos Norte) empanada is characterized by its orange crust due to the use of achuete leaves and has a filling of young papaya shreds, whole egg, mung bean sprouts, and longganisa (native sausage) and is best eaten with sukang Iloko (vinegar) as its sawsawan (dipping sauce). Most stalls selling this empanada can be found in the Batac Riverside Empanadaan.

The Vigan (Ilocos Sur) empanada includes vegetables like green papaya or cabbage, carrots, skinless Vigan longganisa, and egg. It is deep-fried, and served with a special vinegar dip, known as sukang Iloko (vinegar from the Ilocos region of the Philippines).

Perhaps the Batac festival is meant to outshine its southern competitor?

Strawberry Festival

 The Strawberry Festival (Source: DZRH News)

The Strawberry Festival (Source: DZRH News)

A major highlight of this festival is the Strawberry Lane which is held at the Municipal Park in La Trinidad, Benguet. Here, tourists get to enjoy a host of strawberry related products. Whether you would like to enjoy the succulent berries in the summer heat, or would prefer to buy products of the same, make sure to visit the Lane.

The strawberry competitions are also a notable part of the festival. Here, residents showcase their culinary skills at the pastries section.

To sweeten one's experience at the festival, a street extravaganza is held featuring vigorous dancing, parade formations as well as a host of traditional rituals unique to Benguet.

The Strawberry Festival is a week-long event that fuses delicious snacks with long-standing traditions for an amazing holiday experience altogether. Locals and foreigners get to savor the culture in Benguet, all the while having fun.

The festival, just as the name suggests, was envisioned to promote the location as a top strawberry contributor in the area. The timing of the festival, held in early March, couldn’t be better as it is held just after the popular Panagbenga flower festival in nearby Baguio City.

Garlic Festival

 The Garlic Festival (Source: Mertrokelan.com)

The Garlic Festival (Source: Mertrokelan.com)

The Garlic Festival is held in Sinait, Ilocos Sur, known as the Garlic Center of the North. It is held during the 1st to 3rd of May. This festival aims to showcase the talent, ingenuity and hard work of the Ilocano farmers. It also aims to encourage the farmers to mass high quality garlic using modern technology. The festival is the idea of Governor DV Savellano and Sinait Mayor Edgar Yabes.

It's the Gilroy (California) Garlic Festival of the Philippines!

Longganisa Festival

 The Longganisa Festival (Photo by Bryan Rapadas)

The Longganisa Festival (Photo by Bryan Rapadas)

Aside from the Spanish heritage houses lining this northern town’s streets, Vigan is also known for its longganisa. These plump, brown links of spicy meat, distinctly flavored with garlic and Ilocano sugar cane vinegar, are a staple item for breakfast. The Vigan longganisa is so famed that the Ilocanos begin their year by celebrating its existence.

Highlight of the festival is the street dancing competition sporting the delicacy. Think about sausage costumes and props!

Vigan has tried to compete for the distinction of"Longest Sausage Link" in the Guinness Book of Records.

Bagoong Festival

 The Bagoong Festival (Source: GMA News)

The Bagoong Festival (Source: GMA News)

Where there's Filipino food, there's bagoong.

Held in January as part of Lingayen, Pangasinan's fiesta celebration, the Bagoong Festival was first held during the time of the late Mayor Jonas Castañeda to promote the town’s prime product and tell the world that Lingayen is the home of the most delectable bagoong (fermented shrimp or fish).

Bagoong, which is produced in two coastal villages, is one of the town’s thriving industries. Lingayen has 56 bagoong processors, wholesalers and retailers, according to the Department of Trade and Industry provincial office in Dagupan City. The product is exported to Hawaii and California.

During the accompanying street parade, students carry earthen jars that are used to make bagoong, as well as oversized replicas of bagoong bottles.

Then there's the search for the festival king and queen in their bikinis. Certainly no shame in being called Mr. And Miss Bagoong!

So whatever your food fancy is, there is something that awaits you when you visit Northern Luzon. Don't skip the region's world-class tourist attractions, but don't skip its “feastivals” either. It will definitely be a culinary experience of a lifetime.


Rene Astudillo is a writer, book author and blogger and has recently retired from more than two decades of nonprofit community work in the Bay Area. He spends his time between California and the Philippines.


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